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ruth crawford seeger – chinaman, laundryman lyrics


don’t call me “man”!
i am worse than a slave

wash! wash!
why can i wash away
the dirt of others’ clothes
but not the hatred of my heart?
my skin is yellow
does my yellow skin color the clothes?
why do you pay me less
for the same work?
clever boss!
you know
how to scatter the seeds of hatred
among your ignorant slaves

iron! iron!
why can i smooth away
the wrinkle
of others’ dresses
but not the miseries of my heart?
why should i come to america
to wash clothes?
do you think “chinamen” in china
wear no dresses?

i came to america
three days after my marriage
when can i see her again?
only the almighty “dollar” knows!

dry! dry!
why do clothes dry
but not my tears?
i work
twelve hours a day
he pays
fifteen dollars a week
my boss says
go back to china
if you don’t feel satisfied!
unlimited hours of toil:
two silver dollars a week
you can find a job.”
thank you, boss
for you remind me
i know
bosses are robbers everywhere!
chinese boss says:
“you chinaman
me chinaman
come work for me —
work for your fellow countryman!
by the way
you ’wong’, me ‘wong’ —
do we not belong to same family?
ha! ha!
we are cousins!
o yes!
you ‘hai shan’, me ‘hai shan’
do we not come from same district?
o come work for me;
i will treat you better!”
get away from here!
what is the difference
when you comea to exploit me?

don’t call me “chinaman”!
yes, i am a “laundryman”!
the workingman!
don’t call me “chinaman”!
i am the worldman!

all you workingmen!
here is the brush
made of study
here is the soap
made of action
let us all
wash with the brush!
let us all
press with the iron!
then we shall have
a clean world!